When the US Golf Association holds next week’s 113th US Open at Merion Golf Club, the expected purse will be $8 million, with $1.44 million going to the winner.
It wasn’t the big money, though, that enticed Geoffrey Sisk to send in his qualifying application. It was the small money.
Sisk, a 48-year-old from Marshfield, has been a professional golfer for 25 years and has played at an exceptionally high level, combining to make 221 starts on the PGA Tour or its developmental feeder circuit, what’s now the Web.com Tour. Despite never winning a tournament, Sisk has earned more than $600,000 on those top tours.
But when a player finds himself with no status on either tour — the position Sisk has been in since 2011 — dollars matter, and as he’s found, the chase to rejoin golf’s upper tier can become expensive. If Sisk wants to play in a qualifier with the hope of getting in a tournament on either tour, the entry fee alone runs more than $400. Add the cost of airfare, hotels, caddie fee, and meals, plus no guarantee that the qualifier will be a success, and the expenses can quickly escalate, forcing many a player to take notice and decide if it makes financial sense to continue the pursuit.
Which brings us back to this year’s US Open. Sisk knew that there was a local qualifier at Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth, which is an easy drive. He noticed that, if successful at local, there was a sectional qualifier in Purchase, N.Y., also an easy drive. Then he saw the entry fee for the US Open: $150, no matter if you try and fail at local, or advance all the way to Merion.
Hungry to play somewhere, and finding a qualifier that was wallet-friendly, Sisk decided to enter, even though he swore not long ago that he’d never again put himself through the mental and physical grind of the US Open. For the first time since turning pro, he also spent the entire winter in New England, instead of heading to Florida to sharpen his game. He assumed the role of Mr. Mom in Marshfield, and embraced it.
As it turns out, that $150 was money well spent, because three superb rounds — 18 holes at Pinehills on May 9, followed by 36 holes in Purchase on Monday — have sent Sisk to the US Open for the seventh time. On six of those occasions, he’s pulled off the local-sectional qualifying double, making his achievement even more remarkable.
“To play in seven US Opens, with six of them having to go through local qualifying . . . it is a great accomplishment. I’m very, very pleased with it,” Sisk said. “But sometimes, I’m not trying to say I’m negative about it, but it’s like, if I can do this now, why am I not more successful at the next level? It has to be a slight mental issue. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself. Maybe I try too hard. Maybe there’s too much expectations, I don’t know.
“Because obviously I’m not where I want to be, playing in state opens and trying to find ways to make a living. I want to be back on the [Web.com] or the big tour and get accustomed to everything again: television, the fans, the amount of money that you are playing for, and seeing what I can do with what I’ve learned over the years.”
He’ll get another chance to show it next week in Philadelphia, returning to the city where he went to college (Temple, Class of 1987) and the course where he competed in the 1989 US Amateur. Sisk nearly advanced to match play, losing in a playoff for the right to be among the final 64.
He’s one of 156 now, hoping to make the cut in a US Open for the third time. Sisk missed the cut in 1995 (Shinnecock Hills), 2003 (Olympia Fields), 2007 (Oakmont), and 2011 (Congressional), tied for 30th in 1999 (Pinehurst), and tied for 40th in 2004 (Shinnecock Hills).
It was after rounds of 77-79 at Oakmont six years ago that Sisk figured he’d played his last Open, convinced that advancing age and the longer length now required at US Open venues would combine to end his run. He entered in 2011 only after the USGA notified Sisk that he was exempt into sectional qualifying, and got through. He entered this year so he could scratch that competitive itch at a cost he could justify, eager to get at least one tournament round in, and curious what his game would be like after a long winter of only occasional trips to the Harmon Club’s all-weather bays. One tournament round became three after he shot 68 at Pinehills.
Now, following rounds of 68-69 in Purchase, he’s earned himself at least two more tournament rounds, under the greatest of pressure.
“Obviously, I would like to play well. It would give me a little more money in my bank account, and I could go out and try more Monday qualifiers and see what happens,” Sisk said. “Maybe I go back to [Qualifying School] to see if I can get my status again.”
First things first, and that’s Merion. Unlike so many of the other US Open courses Sisk has played, this one won’t beat him up with extreme length and forced carries. Merion’s scorecard yardage is under 7,000 yards.
Sisk knows what he’ll need to do well. Of course he knows. This is his seventh Open, after all.
“It’s going to be driving it well, keeping it in the fairway,” Sisk said. “The greens are typically always hard at a US Open, fast, the rough’s going to be up, especially around the greens, so you’ll have to really keep the ball in play and hit some really crisp irons.”
There is one drawback — or challenge — to Sisk advancing to another US Open. The Massachusetts Open is also being held next week, starting Tuesday at Woodland Golf Club. It’s a tournament Sisk has won a record-tying six times, and he always liked the symmetry: six Mass Open titles, six US Open appearances.
Now he’s about to play in his seventh US Open, which will prevent him from trying to win a seventh Mass Open, at least this year. He phoned in his regrets, but the bar has definitely been raised.
“Now the heat’s on me,” Sisk said. “I have to win No. 7.”